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Iowa Man Finds Solace Running Routes for Childhood Cancer Patients

ESPN producer explains what intrigues him about the subject of the next
SC Featured (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET, ESPN)

Sunday’s “SC Featured” will tell the story of Rik Zortman, who lost his son Armstrong to brain cancer in 2009 and found a unique way to not only honor his son’s memory but to turn his own life around as well. Chris Connelly is the reporter for “What’s in a Name?” which will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on ESPN and will re-air in other editions throughout the day.

In 2017, after weeks of experimentation with the GPS on his phone, Zortman began using his daily runs to spell out his son’s name with his route. Once word spread of what he was doing, he began doing the same for other childhood cancer patients and has now honored more than 400.

“In reading about Rik and about all the names that he’d run, I wanted to find out why,” said Dan Arruda, who produced the story for ESPN Features. “Why was this man spending so much of his time doing things for people that he had never met? And in speaking to Rik on the phone, it became clear that Rik was a little bit of a tortured soul, that Armstrong’s death changed him profoundly and he was lost for a couple of years.

“It took him that long to find something in his life that gave him some kind of meaning and purpose, and that turned out to be running these names,” he said. “Once he saw how it affected the families of the kids with cancer, he made it almost his mission in life to do as many of them as he could.”

Arruda and his crew visited Zortman in Avoca, Iowa twice while producing the feature. Viewers will see how Zortman maps out his runs for different names and will see him running from ground-level camera shots as well as overhead from drone cameras.

“There’s always an uplifting element to a story where someone comes through a struggle and finds that helping others is a way of helping himself,” Arruda said. “So I just hope that people see that – for anyone out there who’s going through cancer or has a child going through cancer, just know that there’s somebody out there you’ve never heard of in a town you’ve never heard of who’s running for your child and for all children.”

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